This summer has been hectic since I got back from Baffin so apologies for the lack of blog posts! The main focus of the summer has been training to become a British Mountain Guide with a 6 day assessment in North Wales coming up in mid September. Many of you who are not from the UK will be asking what has Wales got to do with mountaineering? Well North Wales has the highest density of fantastic trad rock climbs in the UK with many mountain crags being relatively roadside compared with the two hour plus approaches in Scotland. Snowdonia attracts over 6 million visiters a year and is divided into several ranges with the following including all the Welsh 3000 foot peaks; Moel Hebog, Mynydd Mawr, the Snowdon Massif, the Glyderau and the Carneddau. The elite SAS and Marine regiments of the British Army are trained here, with the extreme and erratic weather often playing a role in accidental deaths from exposure or heat exhaustion. Without question its the real deal and a place to find out how tough you really are. The rock is a geologists dreams varying from from cracked Rhyolitic tuff, the famous pocketed rhyolitic breccia at the Cromlech, a mixture of rhyolite and dolerite at Dinas Mot, dolerite at Tremadog, slate in the foothills, quartzite at Gogarth sometimes with shale or silstone, and limestone at Llandudno peninsular. This list is not exhaustive and gabbro and other types of rock exist further afield. North Wales certainly holds a special place in my heart and I have loved my time here and look forward to sampling more of its fantastic routes.
For me its not just about passing a test, but more about actually learning the skills to be a guide and ensuring the safety of both clients and myself in the mountains. A mountain guide must be current in many disciplines and those of you who have done triathlon will understand how hard it is to maintain your level in 3 concurrent disciplines. For the summer rock test alone, Mountain Guides need to be maintaining a good level in personal rock climbing, guided rock, crag rescue techniques, short roping, navigation, teaching and coaching, survival and first aid.
Having qualified for the guides scheme from personal climbing experience without a Mountaineering Instructor Award or Mountaineering Instructor Certificate has meant that a good part of my summer has been focused on gaining experience taking out mock clients and developing that personal touch with them that goes beyond simply getting the rope up routes. Their safety comes foremost but client comfort is right up there with good stance management, ropework, pace and attention to their needs making it overall a more enjoyable experience. A big thanks goes out to Caroline Wilson, Iggy Iggulen, Ryan and Augustine McDermott, James Parkinson, Michelle Blaydon, Nikki Gilbey and Kelvin Joy, Isaac Murphy, Cecilia Mariani, Kevin Hadyn, Tom Thorne (thanks for the photos) and Jonathan Burgess who helped me by joining me on the mountains as mock clients. Its given me a chance to improve my skills and sample some of the finest rock routes in North Wales if not all of UK. Along the way we have climbed some brilliant routes with the most memorable being Flying Buttress (VD) on Dinas Cromlech, Grooved Arete on Tryfan (HVD), Main Wall on Cyrn Las (HS), Dream of White Horses at Gogarth (HVS), West Rib (HVS) on Dinas Mot (FA Kirkus in 1931!), Scratch Arete (HVS), The Grooves (E1) on Cyrn Las and many many more. Sure we have had some wet and wild days along the way but its been a laugh being on the hill with a lot of interesting characters this summer and outside is always better than inside! I also have to that my partner Michelle Blaydon for being so understanding with all the time spent away from home. Apart from January and February this year has been continuous living out of a bag and I’m looking forward to some time at home together in the autumn.
There are ten trainee guides in my year, possible the biggest intake ever, showing that British Alpinism is flourishing and it sounds like the following year has as many candidates who are dreaming of making a career from guiding in the mountains and sharing some of those awesome experiences with future clients and friends. We are all from different backgrounds and walks of life and are a variety of ages which makes it continually entertaining.
When the trainees have teamed up together we have done some marginally less desirable lines just to prove to ourselves we are mountaineers and can cope with sub optimal conditions (read greasy wet ming fests). Less sought after routes such as Jammed Boulder Gully, Soap Gut, the Gorse Bush Directissima to Pinnacle Rib, Bilberrry Buttress. These will leave your kit stained, dirt under your finger nails, gorse rash to the crotch or just plain soaked from the waterfalls. Some of the younger trainees have argued that these are not worth doing and they will decline to climb them during the test. We’ll see. Soem desceribe them as ‘character building adventures’ that put you on the edge of your comfort zone to ‘where the magic happens’ and ‘once in a lifetime opportunities to be experienced’. Definitely type 3 fun in some cases!
Its fundamental that a guide can climb efficiently, fast and safely and its been fun getting immersed back into the world of UK trad climbing. While being out in the hills is not really training for hard leads, I’ve tried to squeeze in one day personal climbing each week and supplemented it with either a night at the Cromlech boulders or a session at the Beacon centre to keep my own climbing level up to scratch. It’s been a long road back to rock fitness trying to shed the weight off the legs after skiing around 400 of the last 500 days but I’m happy where I am and have enjoyed some great routes like Rat Race (E3), The Big Groove (E3), The Mau Mau (E4), Resurrection (E4). Conditions for one of the legendary Gogarth E5s have been evasive but that can wait until after the test and some fresher northerlies for optimal friction.
Short roping is the next most important skill for a guide as with a 2:1 client to guide ration its fundamental for safeguarding 2 clients on moderate terrain when travelling around the mountains. Basically the guide shortens the length of the rope by taking in coils and keeping some rope available in his spare hand to run out over steps. This skill relies on keeping the rope snug between the guide and the client so a slip is checked before it becomes a fall. The use of spikes and features can act as natural belays and as the terrain becomes more serious it is easy to revert to long roping or pitching. The 2 day expedition section of the test will give ample time to test our short roping but also allows us to show off our skills at climbing VS in big boots, micro navigating at night and bivying skills as we journey through the mountains. The final 2 days of the test are with a mock client and allow us to demonstrate a progressive guided rock day, and a teaching a coaching day, typically in context of climbing on a multipitch crag.
After 2 months on the ground in North Wales with only one day off, I’m starting to feel close to the standard I want to be at. Its been an interesting trip with ups and downs but thats all part of the learning experience. I’ve put in a lot of hard work, my work rate has been the same as a ski season where you are out every day, and its certainly been harder than a university degree! Time will tell if that work has paid off and I have another two weeks to fine tune things before the test.